‘Only getting started’: Trump full steam ahead, DeSantis faltering as primary moves forward

(The Center Square) – Former President Donald Trump dominated the Iowa Caucuses Monday evening, leaving little room for his opponents to forge a path forward and make the pitch they are viable candidates.

Regardless, they seem intent on trying and still do have hope, since Iowa only has 40 delegates to offer and it takes 1,215 to win the GOP nomination.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’s campaign suffered this week in particular, investing heavily in time and campaign funds in Iowa, his best chance to prove his viability before New Hampshire, where he is expected to lose handily.

Notably, both U.S. senators from his home state endorsed Trump just before the Iowa vote.

DeSantis garnered about 21% support, compared to Trump, who received 51% of the vote. The loss is even tougher for DeSantis’ camp since new national polling from The Center Square’s Voter’s Voice poll and others shows former ambassador Nikki Haley surpassing him in national polling.

“Campaigns are in full sprint mode,” Nathan Brand, a Republican operative with experience on national campaigns, told The Center Square. “Normally, election night means the end, but in presidential primaries it is only getting started.”

The next Republican primary vote is next Tuesday, Jan. 23, in New Hampshire, where Trump holds a sizable lead followed by Haley, who came in third in Iowa Monday, two points behind DeSantis.

The two trailing candidates are still duking it out, with the latest controversy over two scheduled debates in the state ahead of the primary.

DeSantis took to X, formerly known as Twitter, Tuesday morning to blast Haley.

“Nikki Haley is afraid to debate because she doesn’t want to answer the tough questions such as how she got rich off Boeing after giving them millions in taxpayer handouts as governor of South Carolina,” DeSantis wrote, going on to accuse Haley of running to be Trump’s vice president.

“I won’t snub New Hampshire voters like both Nikki Haley and Donald Trump, and plan to honor my commitments,” he added. “I look forward to debating two empty podiums in the Granite State this week.”

DeSantis’ comments come after Haley told the media in a statement that she would only participate in the debates, one scheduled Thursday and another Sunday, if Trump agrees to participate.

So far, Trump has skipped the Republican primary debates, arguing that voters already know who he is and what he is about.

“We’ve had five great debates in this campaign. Unfortunately, Donald Trump has ducked all of them,” Haley said in the statement.

Haley said she would not debate again until it was against either Trump or President Joe Biden.

Haley may have a strategic advantage in ignoring DeSantis. RealClearPolitics’ polling average for New Hampshire has Haley with 29% support, behind Trump’s 43% but well ahead of DeSantis, who has only 6.5% support.

Notably, anti-Trump candidate and former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie had roughly 11.5% support in those polls and has now dropped out, meaning a significant shift in the race is still possible.

In February, Republican voters in Nevada and the Virgin Islands will vote. South Carolina holds its Republican primary Feb. 24, and other Republican and Democratic states will follow before Super Tuesday on March 5, a crucial date when 16 states vote for their primary candidate of choice.

In many ways, Trump has seemed to turn much of his attention to the general election. In a speech in Iowa after his victory Monday night, Trump pledged to “straighten out” U.S. elections, calling for voter I.D. and paper ballots.

“We have to get rid of mail-in ballots because once you have mail-in ballots you have crooked elections,” Trump said. “Actually Jimmy Carter’s commission said that a long time ago.”

Trump also spoke about the economy and congratulated his opponents on their Iowa performance.

“We had the greatest economy in the history of our country … and now we don’t,” Trump said, going on to lament elevated inflation.

Prices have risen about 17% since Biden took office, a persistent criticism of the sitting president that Trump seems intent on hammering to his advantage.

Businessman Vivek Ramaswamy announced he was dropping out of the race after receiving only 7.7% of the Iowa vote, which is about what polls projected before the voting began.

It remains unclear where Ramaswamy’s supporters will shift their vote now, but given Ramaswamy’s unabashed support for Trump, whom he endorsed after dropping out, it stands to reason that at least some of his supporters will fall in line behind the former president.

Former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, who received less than 1% of the vote in Iowa Monday, congratulated Trump and announced the suspension of his campaign.

“My message of being a principled Republican with experience and telling the truth about the current front runner did not sell in Iowa,” Hutchinson said in a statement. “I stand by the campaign I ran.”

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